M J E Hey
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Improvisations in Colour: Project Overview

In this project I am combining improv techniques with painting. I started with a series of 'messy paintings' done very fast on hand-me-down paper using children's ready mix paint and pieces of discarded magazines. It was important that the materials were inexpensive, almost rubbish. It was important that nothing was precious and that trying something different was always the first choice. I decided that I would make at least twenty messy paintings before reviewing anything and the words 'good' and 'bad' were left at the door of the studio. The messy paintings were photographed with a phone camera, sometimes when the paint was still wet and the paper runckled. Later I went looking for fragments in the photographs that I liked and used these fragments as starting points for the larger acrylic canvasses. 

I find every painting has a life and character of its own and I must get to know it as it emerges and respect it, in the same way I worked with a new site or an existing building as an architect. If I do not work in this way then I have a long fight with the painting until I do acknowledge what it wants to become. This way of working fascinates me and has produced a huge variety of forms and colour combinations. The final paintings are all very different and have come from 'allowing' rather than 'imposing'. 

The method also generates what feels like an infinite supply of new ideas. There is no back button in painting by hand so I photograph some of the more difficult stages so that I can compare the latest version with earlier versions. These images and parts of the finished paintings generate yet more fragments for future paintings. 

If you enjoy abstract paintings in bright colours and conversations about how things can be created, then you might enjoy this exhibition. If you have stories to share about working in this way I would love to hear them and I look forward to meeting you.


As part of the Improvisations in Colour exhibition for Cambridge Open Studios this year I have been collecting fragments of the initial 'messy paintings', fragments of the paintings as they take shape and finally fragments of the completed paintings. Some of these have become other paintings already and many more are waiting in the wings. Here is a small sample. 

July Open Studios

Cambridge Open Studios 2019
Cambridge Open Studios 2019
Large, brightly coloured acrylic paintings on canvas
  • Commissions Taken
  • Visitors All Year
  • Tuition Given

My way of painting was initiated by a day with a musical improv company (SSMI ). The whole point of each improvisation exercise was to fail and then see what happened, to go beyond the mistakes into a place where there is nothing to lose. This place of freedom and curiosity is rich with both disasters and creative possibilities. As I am not much of a singer, everything failed and all was welcomed with delight and nothing really mattered. It was like being on a different planet for a day. My everyday work as an architect was firmly founded on planet 'get it right', as it surely had to be. The contrast was both shocking and intriguing. The improv way of working felt like playing and was full of invention and surprise.  My current project is about revisiting the life-giving potential of play through painting.